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Obituary: Leading farmer Hugh Crane was a ‘commanding presence’ in the countryside

PUBLISHED: 07:56 20 March 2020 | UPDATED: 07:56 20 March 2020

Leading Norfolk farmer and cleaning company founder Hugh Crane has died at the age of 95. Picture: Crane family

Leading Norfolk farmer and cleaning company founder Hugh Crane has died at the age of 95. Picture: Crane family

Crane family

Leading Norfolk farmer Hugh Crane, who has died aged 95, was barely 16 when he took over the family’s tenanted holding.

He went on to farm on a number of estates in west Norfolk before moving to Upton, near Acle, where he later specialised in high-value crops including potatoes and onions. In 1999, the business won a national export award at the first AP Growers’ dinner in Norwich for sending potatoes as far afield as Sri Lanka.

A former chairman of Stalham Farmers’ Club in 1984, he was a commanding presence at club meetings for decades and built up a major farming enterprise, now run by his middle son, Nicholas.

A seven-time winner of Stalham’s prized Potato Cup between 1989 and 2007, he was a double winner of the Wheat Trophy in 1994 and 1995. He excelled at sugar beet, winning the Cantley Cup in 2006 for best overall performance by a member and was a three-time winner of the whole crop beet trophy.

He was elected an honorary vice-president by members and rarely missed a meeting until relatively recently.

With a near-encyclopaedic memory for prices going back to the 1940s, he could carry out mental arithmetic faster than those relying on a calculator.

Born at Manor Farm, Litcham, near Fakenham, in October 1924, Hugh Edgar Crane left Dereham High School aged 16 and very soon was running the farm. In 1941, he took on Manor Farm, Tattersett and then two years later hired Lower Farm, Tattersett, for £1.50 an acre on the Pynkney estate having taken over from his father Edgar. In those days barley was making £90 per ton (today’s price is about £125/tonne) and a farmworker was paid about £2.50 per week although war-time income tax was 95pc.

A shrewd farmer, he even saved weed seed from his arable crops for sale to cagebird enthusiasts. When it was virtually impossible to obtain seed for non-food uses during the Second World War, his “fat hen” weed seed sold to bird breeders for more than a ton of barley.

Always willing to invest and innovate, he was an early convert to mechanisation. His first combine harvester, an International imported from the United States during war-time in three massive wooden crates, cost £760.

He was of the farming generation, which met the challenge to feed the nation as rationing endured for 14 long years until July 1954. Running a mixed farm, he raised sheep, beef cattle, poultry and pigs as well as cereals although more recently specialised in arable crops.

Later, he farmed at Houghton St Giles on the Walsingham estate and from 1957 at Upton, paying £6 8s (£6.40 acre) for his first year’s rent. He moved his young family to Upton in 1959.

A supporter of co-operative ventures, he was a founder member and later chairman of Blofield Pea and Bean Growers’ group (later Blofield Farmers), and also helped to establish the White Cross sugar beet harvesting syndicate with several local farmers.

In the early 1980s, another business, Hugh Crane Cleaning Equipment, which is now run by his oldest son Philip and youngest son Robert, was started at Upton. It has grown into an almost national company making and supplying specialist cleaning equipment.

Married in November 1951 to Joan, they almost achieved 60 years together before she predeceased in 2010. He leaves three sons, and seven grandchildren.

• As a result of government coronavirus guidelines concerning public gatherings the family has, “with great regret”, announced the cancellation of the planned memorial thanksgiving service, originally to be held at St Margaret’s church in Upton on Tuesday, March 24. They hope to rearrange the service at a later date. If desired, donations for the Alzheimer’s society or East Anglian Air Ambulance, can be sent c/o Arthur Jary & Sons Ltd, Calthorpe Green, Old Road, Acle, NR13 3QL.

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